September is National Food Safety Education Month, and in observance of that the Partnership for Food Safety Education, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is helping consumers get the facts behind common myths about cross contamination and the growth of harmful pathogens that cause food poisoning. Throughout the month, the partnership is reaching out to health educators and consumers to remind them that harmful pathogens that can make them sick can be transfeered from contaminated hands and surfaces to food.
To help with the education efforts, the partnership is sharing the following home foods myths and facts:
MYTH: Cross contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator -- it is too cold in there for germs to survive.
Fact: Some bacteria can survive and even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator. In fact, Listeria monocytogenes grows at temperatures as low as 35.6 F. A recent study from NSF International revealed that the refrigerator produce compartment was one of the “germiest” places in the kitchen, containing Salmonella and Listeria. In your refrigerator, keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Clean your refrigerator regularly with hot water and soap and clean up food and beverage spills immediately to reduce the risk of cross-contamination in your refrigerator. Don’t forget to clean refrigerator walls and undersides of shelves.
MYTH: It’s OK to wash bagged greens if I want to. There's no harm.
Fact: Your intuition says giving bagged greens labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed” an extra rinse couldn’t possibly hurt. However, rinsing of ready-to-eat greens will not enhance safety, but could increase the potential for cross-contamination. Pathogens that may be on your hands or on kitchen surfaces could find their way onto your greens in the process of handling them. Ready-to-eat greens have been commercially prepared with your safety and convenience in mind.
MYTH: It’s only important to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables for safety. I don't need to dry them too.
Fact: Using a clean cloth or paper towel to blot dry fresh fruits and vegetables after rinsing is more important than people might realize. Research has found this drying step further reduces the level of harmful bacteria on the surface of fresh produce. Take a two-step approach to cleaning your produce. First, just before use, rinse under running water only the fruits and vegetables you plan to eat, including those with skins or rinds that are not eaten. Second, dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth or paper towel.
MYTH: I don't need to rinse this melon for safety -- the part I eat is on the inside
Fact: You’re not eating the rind of the melon, but there are many ways for pathogens on the outside of the melon to contaminate the edible portion. A knife or peeler passing through the rind can carry pathogens from the outside into the flesh of the melon. The rind also touches the edible portion when cut fruit is arranged or stacked for serving and garnish. Play it safe and rinse your melon under running tap water while rubbing with your hands or scrubbing with a clean brush. Dry the melon with a clean cloth or paper towel. Once you’ve used a towel to wipe hands or surfaces, it can look clean and still contain harmful bacteria.
Educational materials available
The partnership has made free, downloadable materials for educators and consumers available as part of Home Food Safety Mythbusters. A consumer flyer of each myth, a PowerPoint quiz, and other consumer-friendly tools can be found online.